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andonbray

Earthcaching in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Hi,

 

I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and noticed that there are only old Virtual Caches. Is there some rule there against the Earthcache Program?

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There used to be one on top of Clingmans Dome, but it looks like it was Archived:

 

On Top of Old Smoky (EC)

 

Like most EC submissions, I would imagine getting permission from the NPS is the most difficult part of the process, but with a bit of patience, it doesn't sound impossible.

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There used to be one on top of Clingmans Dome, but it looks like it was Archived:

 

On Top of Old Smoky (EC)

 

Like most EC submissions, I would imagine getting permission from the NPS is the most difficult part of the process, but with a bit of patience, it doesn't sound impossible.

 

It's not. I've read here where it took up to six months to get some earthcaches approved by park staff -- I think it was at Grand Canyon -- but I had my two earthcaches at Dry Tortugas National Park approved within a month. The key is to do your homework, coordinate ahead of time with the EC reviewer and park staff, and be patient (yet politely following up with park staff) when you're waiting on approval.

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OK, Thanks for the quick responses.

 

Sounds like a bit of extra work but defiantly worth it as there are some really great locations in this park.

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It's not. I've read here where it took up to six months to get some earthcaches approved by park staff

 

Quite true. It varies quite a bit from one NPS office to the next. I had a couple of locations approved in Sequoia NP within about 30 days, while the Ranger I was exchanging emails with rejected a third based on the impact on the area. A couple years later, someone else asked a different Ranger and got approval relatively quickly for the same location. That CO was nice enough to email me to offer up the spot, hearing that I tried to get one approved at the spot, but I let them have it, knowing that their submission would more than likely be far superior to mine.

 

The upshot is, don't give up. It can depend on who you talk with and how sympathetic they are to the Earthcaching program and it's goals. Generally speaking, I've found that if the Park is large enough to have a full time Ranger in charge of Interpretive Programs, they tend to be more agreeable to the idea of EC's. In Sequoia, I was mostly talking with the Backcountry Ranger types, so their focus was more about how many people are going to visit an area, and not so much on the educational aspects of EC's.

 

Good luck!

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There used to be one on top of Clingmans Dome, but it looks like it was Archived:

 

On Top of Old Smoky (EC)

 

Like most EC submissions, I would imagine getting permission from the NPS is the most difficult part of the process, but with a bit of patience, it doesn't sound impossible.

If I recall correctly they require a special use permit now from the NPS, and they charge a fee. I'm thinking it is $59 per year. :unsure: There should be more info in the forums, I recall many EarthCache owners were upset with the policy. :( I moved on to Waymarking and lost track of EarthCaching. :)

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There used to be one on top of Clingmans Dome, but it looks like it was Archived:

 

On Top of Old Smoky (EC)

 

Like most EC submissions, I would imagine getting permission from the NPS is the most difficult part of the process, but with a bit of patience, it doesn't sound impossible.

If I recall correctly they require a special use permit now from the NPS, and they charge a fee. I'm thinking it is $59 per year.

Not that I know of. At least, not as of February 2013, which was when our two were approved free of charge.

 

I have read that the Forest Service was moving toward, or had adopted, such a system, but not the NPS.

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There used to be one on top of Clingmans Dome, but it looks like it was Archived:

 

On Top of Old Smoky (EC)

 

Like most EC submissions, I would imagine getting permission from the NPS is the most difficult part of the process, but with a bit of patience, it doesn't sound impossible.

If I recall correctly they require a special use permit now from the NPS, and they charge a fee. I'm thinking it is $59 per year.

Not that I know of. At least, not as of February 2013, which was when our two were approved free of charge.

 

I have read that the Forest Service was moving toward, or had adopted, such a system, but not the NPS.

I'm thinking this topic about the GSMNP was discussed back in 2010? I could be confusing it with the NFS policy on geocaches. But there has to be a reason there are no EC's in GSMNP, only Virtuals. Maybe one of the EC moderators will post soon, they would know the answer. :)

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I looked at all the unpublished earthcaches within 10 miles of the linked Clingman's Dome Earthcache. All of them failed because evidence of National Park Service permission wasn't provided (none mentioned fees as an impediment), or because there was no geology lesson involved, or because of non-compliance with Earthcache guidelines. For example, a prior submission at Cataract Falls was not published because waterfalls are ordinarily not acceptable targets for Earthcaches.

Edited by Keystone
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I looked at all the unpublished earthcaches within 10 miles of the linked Clingman's Dome Earthcache. All of them failed because evidence of National Park Service permission wasn't provided (none mentioned fees as an impediment), or because there was no geology lesson involved, or because of non-compliance with Earthcache guidelines. For example, a prior submission at Cataract Falls was not published because waterfalls are ordinarily not acceptable targets for Earthcaches.

Thanks for checking. I plan on being in the area more than a few times this summer, but I am not interested in submitting any new Earthcaches, but would log them. :laughing: There are enough Waymarks and Virtuals to keep me busy. A few of us did list some of the Challenge caches in the area before they were archived.

When the EC guidelines changed a few years ago, well I just don't enjoy the new ones as much as the old ones. :(

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Check this other thread about permission in public lands for more background:

http://forums.Groundspeak.com/GC/index.php?showtopic=225186&st=0&p=5305326&hl=permission&fromsearch=1entry5305326

 

At one point there was discussion of Great Smoky instituting a formal permitting system, but I'm not sure where that went. The matter is handled locally by individual parks, because each park has its own unique management considerations. As far as GSA knows, although there are some national "guidances" in federal agencies about how to handle caching, ultimately, it comes down to individual land managers to decide how and where they will allow caches. (In other words, there is no nationwide system for issuing permits, giving permission, etc.)

 

Before putting in great effort to developing an EarthCache on NPS (or other federal) land, please be sure to check in with the local land managers to first determine if they will even provide permission. Some parks simply won't. Others will, after months of explanation and negotiation. Some will after just a few days/weeks.

 

Best wishes,

Matt

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If you are in the area, stop by the offices. History has shown that you do far better walking in and speaking in person (politely and not in a demanding way). If you try and email they tend to be way understaffed and behind in many jobs. They will be slow to get back to you, if they will at all. They just do not have the time to respond to random email on new projects.

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We have been through this several times before, but I am one of many who think NPS permission for an earthcache is silly! After all, it's our land. I believe the original mistake was made by us and not the NPS.

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Historically, the USFS was more focused on managing public lands and their resources for multiple users (mining, ranching, recreation, logging, hunting, etc.). On the other hand, the NPS is tasked with preserving everything within a certain boundary and funneling visitors through with as little impact as possible. Although nowadays that line is being blurred, especially with vast wilderness areas being set aside by the USFS.

 

So I can see why the NPS might get a little upset at a cache, virtual or otherwise, causing heavy visitation to a particular site or location.

 

But don't get me started on user fees. You've already paid your taxes once in the year, it doesn't seem right to pay again at the gate or iron ranger. But I digress... :P

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I have yet to be rejected for an earthcache submission,* and I've worked with two towns, three state park agencies (VA, AL, and OK), the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. It wasn't that hard to get permission. I try to give them as much information as possible so I can make their decision easy. And I always make sure to gear my caches so that a geocacher would have the exact same impact on the site as any other visitor and not have to have special permission or cause greater wear and tear on a site. And finally, I don't rely on just email, I usually make contact first with a phone call, walk them through the idea and get the initial green light, then immediately follow up with an email with more details. I find it helps to have done my homework ahead of time so I can follow up my phone call with that immediate email with the details of our conversation and my proposal, so they can look at it while our talk is fresh in their head and they're motivated to follow up.

 

Government bureaucrats are people too. (I know, I am one.) When I have approached park staff with patience and a friendly attitude, and I convince them that an earthcache will enhance their park and help better educate visitors on how the landscape formed, I find they are normally happy to help.

 

On the other hand, I suspect if you approach park service employees with the attitude that you are entitled to stick a cache on it because it's your land, too, they may not be as willing to help, because now you've become "that guy" that they have to deal with. I wouldn't know, because this isn't how I would ever approach the issue.

 

As far as fees, I've yet to pay for any earthcache I've set up. But then I've not bothered to set one up on national forest land.

 

*edit: by a government agency, anyway; I did get nixed by reviewers for an EC in Iceland, but that's another story for another day.

Edited by hzoi
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I was advised to post my story in here as I have recently successfully gotten my Earthcache published in GSMNP.

http://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC5FMF0_chimney-tops?guid=2537a2cf-5d2a-4854-963c-1f37d4ed80f5

 

It started 3 years ago when I attempted to make my first Earthcache. It was green light from the reviewer very quickly, except for the issue of permission. I thought "No biggie, I'll just get permission".

Well that was not quite the case. I had to find out who to call and after playing ring around the rosie I got someone on the phone and when I asked about permission for an Earthcache I was told "You would need a permit, No such permit exist, I would have to write the permit and I just don't have the time to do so. Call me in a year"

 

This was back in 2011. I wound up trying again a year later and started making the email round robin. I didn't want to be a pest so I was patient. Then this year I decided to try again and I received an email about my inquiry to establish an Earthcache. I sent them all of the cache information, location ect. She then needed contacts from my end. I gave her our local reviewers name, geoawareusa7. He decided it would be good to bring in geoaware, since he works for the Geological Society. He wrote a letter as well as my reviewer. In this time period was a lot of waiting and verifying info and site info. The lady I was speaking with directed the Earthcache to another gentlemen and it was pretty rapid from there. Once he photographed my area and verified my desired location, he corresponded to GSA and once everything was clear I received an email stating they were happy to approve the Great Smoky Mountain's official first Earthcache.

 

It took 3 years of a lot of back an forth but I feel this is the beginning of a healthy and new relationship in Earthcaching with the most visited National Park in the country.

 

So, that's my story. I'm very excited and I've enjoyed the feedback from a lot of folks. Hopefully we see many more Earthcaches to come there!

 

Chutch1035

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Three years? WOW. We published the first earthcaches at Dry Tortugas National Park and Chickasaw National Recreation Area, and two months was my longest wait!

 

MANY KUDOS TO YOU for having the patience to stick this out and be the first!! You and the reviewers who helped out have made it much easier for others to follow in your footsteps at GSMNP.

 

One thing I do when contacting park managers that may make things easier: every time I get permission from a different park manager, I add that park system to my list, sort of like building my earthcache resume. Currently my standard email intro reads:

 

Hello,

 

I am looking for permission to create an earthcache based on the geology of [feature].

 

An earthcache is a geocache that has no physical container and requires people to answer questions to log their find, based on earth science lessons. In order to get started, I need permission from park staff.

 

This is not my first earthcache. I currently manage 16 earthcaches in different areas of the United States, plus one in Norway. Over the past several years, I have worked with the U.S. National Park Service; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Virginia State Parks; Alabama State Parks; Oklahoma State Parks; the City of Grottoes, Virginia; and the Town of Medicine Park, Oklahoma, to place earthcaches on park property.

 

I want to ensure this cache is designed responsibly, putting the park's needs first and foremost. I would run the draft earthcache by park staff before publishing, and I would design the experience to make sure that people completing this earthcache would stay in areas that would have no more impact than any other visitor to the park.

 

If you'd like to see two examples of earthcaches I placed at Dry Tortugas National Park after working with park staff, you can see them here:

 

http://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC45GJG_castle-in-the-sand-building-fort-jefferson

http://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC45FYN_shifting-sands-of-garden-key

 

I'm available by email at or by cell at [phone], and I'm happy to answer any questions or address any concerns you might have.

 

Thanks for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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Only three years? I believe it, that is normal bureaucracy in the State of Tennessee for a State Park. :laughing: I did not have any problems with the National Park in Cumberland Gap, but been there and attempted that in GSMNP several years ago. It is good to see a EC there at the Chimney Tops, I was there Waymarking last month. I hope to visit this new EC soon, but it may be next spring.

 

Congradulations on your new EC. :)

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Thanks guys. Man that letter is very clean. I love it. Very professional.

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Thanks guys. Man that letter is very clean. I love it. Very professional.

I work for the government. Bureaucracy fears the unknown. :anibad:

 

Seriously, though, I work for commanders who have little time, so that's how I've gotten used to communicating with decision makers. Bottom line up front and economy of force (less is more) are welcome concepts. So is precedent. The quicker I can get them over the hump of "you want to do what now?" and onto other questions -- like, is the science accurate? does this fit with how we want visitors using the site? -- the better.

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That's a great question. I haven't been to that area in ages and hadn't looked to see whether anyone had been successful or not.

 

Anyone talked to GSMNP staff lately on an earthcache?

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